Friday, March 31, 2006

Quel Surprise

The only thing surprising about the results of this "long-awaited study" is that it was on the front page of the New York Times today. Any guesses as to why people fare worse if they know they're being prayed for? My speculations: 1) the mental picture of a bunch of those Terry-Schiavo fanatics bending their knees for me would make me sick and fearful. They've given prayer a bad name. and 2)If strangers are praying for me, I must be in pretty bad shape.

As for a comment on real news. It's not that rare to find parallels to slavery in current events: the current prison boom, for example, allows predominantly white regions like upstate New York to get extra representation in congress by adding non-voting poor people of color to their state's populations, just like the 3/5 clause let South Carolina, Georgia, etc. to be disproportionately powerful in the House of Representatives during slavery days.
I also often use anti-immigration rhetoric to explain how whites in the 19th century could be both anti-slavery and anti-Black, as they were in the Free Soil party.

However, it wasn't until this week that a student offered a parallel between pro-slavery arguments of the 19th century and the political discourse of today. Although it's true that big business wants an easily controlled and rightless workforce and will therefore continue to support illegal immigration, they rarely do so with any overt arguments in favor of cheap labor. With Bush's guestworker program, that's changing.

My students recently read John Quincy Adams' diary entries describing his conversations with pro-slavery Southerner, John Calhoun, during the Missouri compromise debates of 1820. Calhoun's argument to John Quincy Adams was that slavery uplifted white workers who never had to lower themselves by doing the work of domestic house-servants. It was as I was explaining this pro-slavery argument that a student raised her hand and said, "Like George Bush just said about immigrants." My first comment was somewhat dismissive oh no - it's not that blatant... but I had to stop myself seconds later and concede that it really WAS that blatant. The arguments in Bush's no-amnesty, no-citizenship guest-worker program are very similar to the pro-slavery argument that we need workers to do jobs that are beneath Americans.

See for yourself.
John Calhoun as recorded in Adams' diary, 1820:
After this meeting, I walked home with Calhoun, who said that the principles which I had avowed were just and noble: but that in the Southern country, whenever they were mentioned, they were always understood as applying only to white men. Domestic labor was confined to the blacks, and such was the prejudice, that if he, who was the most popular man in his district, were to keep a white servant in his house, his character and reputation would be irretrievably ruined...I said that this confounding of the ideas of servitude and labor was one of the bad effects of slavery: but he thought it attended with many excellent consequences. It did not apply to all kinds of labor—not, for example, to farming. He himself had often held the plough: so had his father. Manufacturing and mechanical labor was not degrading. It was only manual labor—the proper work of slaves. No white person could descend to that. And it was the best guarantee to equality among the whites. It produced an unvarying level among them. It not only did not excite, but did not even admit of inequalities, by which one white man could domineer over another.

Bush (March 25,2006):
As we debate the immigration issue, we must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country.

He doesn't quite say that it elevates white people or American citizens, but it's close.
For an alternative and equally problematic view, Thom Hartman has a weird article on Common Dreams. I admit that I posted this link without having read the entire article and that as I was running in the park I heard Marc Maron mention it on the radio show and realized that I was overquick in posting it here with the adjective "good" affixed. See, here's what I thought when I skimmed Hartman's article and saw comments about labor hours. I thought Hartmann's point was going to be that labor's biggest problem isn't "illegal immigrants," it's the lengthening work day and the increased productivity that some people call "lean production," and that I refer to as "speed up."
The worst thing about Hartmann's essay is its reference to the labor movement's role in pushing for immigration restriction legislation in the 1920s as in some kind of proud and now abandoned tradition. What he neglects to mention is that labor during the 1920s under Gompers was experiencing net losses in membership as it made concession to business and backed away from militancy. It wouldn't be until the 1930s, when labor unions began organizing the stigmatized immigrants and children of immigrants that labor finally gained meaningful political power in the US. So fooey on Thom Hartmann.
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For the first time ever, my garden looks good at the beginning of the season. hooray for all that work planting bulbs back in the Fall.
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Monday, March 27, 2006

First Flowers of Spring

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Those pansies are some kind of miracle species. They lasted through the whole winter and now they're blooming again.

It's CUNY Week!

Today begins the sixth annual week of the Professional Staff Congress's "Teach CUNY" project. The idea behind the project is to teach our students and colleagues the history of CUNY as a public institution serving the people of New York City.
My first lesson of the CUNY week happened at a friend's baby-shower on Friday night, when I learned from one of my esteemed and now retired colleagues that Queen Latifah once attended BMCC.
This year, everyone involved in teaching CUNY will be using the opportunity to learn from the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, drawing parallels the racist attack on public funding that became so apparent in majority Black New Orleans to the crisis in public funding for New York's majority minority CUNY, where tuition was once free. In honor of teach CUNY week, I suggest you read this balanced and suggestive response to the University's right-wing critics from Robert K. Fullinwider of the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, or peruse this fascinating article from The History Teacher"" about teaching the history of Open Admissions at Laguardia Community College, or this excellent essay on p. 11 of the PSC's Clarion by H. Bruce Franklin, "Under Attack for 150 Years."
The "Teach CUNY" project is also an example of the creative social movement politics of the current leadership of the PSC, the New Caucus, who came to power within CUNY in 2000. Unlike the conservative, do-nothing leadership of the previous decades, the New Caucus made an alliance with CUNY's students a key part of the union's priorities. Indeed, the New Caucus organized in 1995, the year when students all over New York united in protest of Pataki's and Giuliani's brutal cuts to CUNY's budget. Not only can we see this alliance between CUNY's union and its students with this educational event, but last week, the PSC went to Albany and convinced the legislature to fund CUNY's new budget without increasing tuition. It's nice to start CUNY week with a victory....and I hope it translates to a victory for the New Caucus in the union's upcoming election for union leadership.
The New Caucus is running for election against a combination of consevative malcontents and leftovers of the previous old-guard leadership. Elections start on April 3rd and end on April 24th. The lesson for me this "Cuny week" is at least partly, Vote New Caucus.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Monday, March 20, 2006

War's Third Anniversary..And what's new? More Torture, More Death, More Bullshit

I still remember the first day of the US bombing of Iraq. I was interviewing room-mates and met my friend, D., who became my room-mate for two years and remains my good friend. We knew we were allies because we were both horrified by the war's start. That night I went out to see Luna at the Knitting Factory and alienated a group of "friends" who thought I shouldn't talk about the war so much because it was a "bummer" and they wanted to have a good time.
Well, here's a bummer. In yesterday's? Times, there is a five page article about a special torture/paintball unit at Nama, which reveals once again that our military has fused the morally dead policies of the US ruling class with our sadistic youth culture to create a hole of humiliation for Iraqi prisoners. In the same paper there's an article about the Whitehouse effort to spin the war as a "success." Juan Cole has a more informed comment on the results so far.
And now it's time to go to work.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

We Can't All Write the "Rite of Spring," but we can aspire

Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.

So said Igor Stravinsky.

I was so inspired by the Wall-to-Wall to Stravinksy at Symphony Space this Saturday and now am sitting at home listening to the "Rite of Spring" as conducted by Colin Davis. At Symphony Space it was played breathtakingly by the Bugallo-Williams piano duo, whose all Stravinsky CD is not yet out, as far as I could tell. I went and read a bit about Stravinsky because I was wondering when and why he left Russia, and if he was totally a "white Russian" as the trajectory of his career suggested. After a little reading,I found that he was the whitest of the white, a "monarchist" according to his assistant Robert Craft, an admirer of Mussolini from the futurist days.
How sad, because I like his music, and I can't say that it bears the stamp of a fascist aesthetic. Neither does Debussy's, which I also admire, and yet he was a rabid nationalist. Stravinsky inspired Villa Lobos, whose music I also like, and damn! Villa Lobos was the minister of music education in Brazil during the 1930s dictatorship.
What is about modernist music that favors fascism and dictatorship? Is it indeed to elite an art form? What do we make of "the Bear, a fairy tale with Song," in which the bear builds his own wooden leg and goes looking for the woodsman and his wife after they've feasted on his original one? Doesn't that seem definitevely anti-authoritarian? When ruminating on these and other questions, I went looking for something by Edward Said, and found this essay about Daniel Barenboim conducting Wagner in Israel.
And speaking of fascist art forms. They certainly don't rise to the level of Stravinsky, but the Wachowski brothers' slide from neo-futurism to anti-fascist fascism seems to get more pronounced with each film.
Am I just being provocative? yeah, I'll say more about it later. for now, read this about the original graphic novel, born in the politics of England's rock against racism from the 1980s.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hot hot Violin

Yesterday, I went to the Open Rehearsal at the Philharmonic and saw rockstar violinist, Ingolf Turban. After only a few bars, I was ready to write him fan mail. I did think that parts of the notoriously difficult Paganini violin concerto #1 sounded a bit rough, but having never heard it played before, I also couldn't tell if that was how it was supposed to sound. Was it supposed to bounce around like that? or was he just not quite on the string? Througout this crazy piece, Turban was oh-so-sexy, partly because he looked like he was having a great time. His rockstar persona was only helped by the rehearsal outfit: black jeans and a turtleneck. Whoo-baby! All this at 11am; I think the evening performances will be more energetic.
I wondered throughout "man, is it supposed to sound like that?" I was astounded by the whole thing and immediately went out and bought some CDs of Salvatore Accardo playing Paganini. Still, this may not have been enough; I wish I could hear Turban play it again, because even thought I didn't know whether I liked it, exactly, I wanted to figure out exactly what he was doing. I was a bit relieved when I discovered that Goethe shared my confused experience upon the first hearing of a Paganini concerto. He said.
"I heard something simply meteoric and was unable to understand it."

There were parts when the violin really did sing, When Turban played those high notes on the g-string, it almost sounded like a viola. At other times, while he was doing tricky harmonic doublestops, his violin sounded like a flute. At times during Turban's cadenza, I thought he sounded like three violinists all playing at the same time. And in many lyrical passages, he just sounded like a great violinist. On my way out of the concert hall I heard one nay-sayer comment, "All those guitar solos from the 70s that were so hard to play but that I never liked? I think it all originated here," gesturing toward the stage. I have to disagree. Virtuosic guitar solos? just ridiculous and pretentious in the middle of a rock n'roll song. Crazy virtuouso violin playing in the concerto format? totally appropriate, and in fact, more rock n' roll than the guitar solo interrupting some pop music. This music bends your mind in the concerto context. It doesn't sound like difficulty for difficulty's sake and it breaks into an occaisionally pretentious kind of music with a crazy life-affirming joy. The combination of wacky displays of impossible playing and weird sound fills the rather polite concerto form with a surprising eros. In Paganini's case, the music is wild enough that you might, like Goethe, use him to define the "demonic" itself: a "mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain." Turban, with his winks, grins, and deep knee bends, brought that delicious deviltry right to the fore.
For your own wild classical music experience, don't forget "Wall to Wall Stravinsky" at Symphony Space this weekend.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This Year's Left Forum

After spending much of Saturday wandering around with my Dad, older brother, and celebrated younger brother, "Jake the Snake" of breakdancing fame, I went to the Left Forum from 10am-6pm on Sunday. As far as I could tell, there were fewer people there than in previous years, although they were happily back in Cooper Union and had the usual fantastic book sales. I didn't know everyone there, but I did run into an old comrade from Love and Rage, with whom I attended many of the same sessions, and he, master of sectarian lore, was able to give me an informed view of the ANSWER/UFPJ divisions.
My general observations: Gilbert Achcar, like Hermione Granger with her "time turner," was on every panel at the conference. Economists are more charming than you might think. That guy from ANSWER is more magnetic than I had thought he would be.
At 10am I went to a session on the meaning of the election of Hamas and the proper approach of the left. The panelists were Noura Erakat, Gilbert Achcar, Uri Ram, and Peter Weiss. Interestingly, not one of the panelists discussed the issue of Islamic fundamentalism; they all agreed with Erakat, who spoke first, that the reason for Hamas' victory was the occupation itself, Oslo, and the corruption of Fatah. The person who mentioned things I hadn't heard before did not discuss Hamas much, but rather talked about Ariel Sharon's new party and its meaning. The next session I went to, at noon, was "China, India, and Capitalism in the Long Run" with Giovanni Arrighi, Beverly Silver, Leo Panitch, and Gilbert Achcar. Arrighi and Silver, who have written together from the "world systems" approach, argued in favor of the proposition that China would eventually surpass the US as the leader in the world economy, and that this would be good for American workers. They also argued that neither China nor India, the two most successful "new" economies are actually practicing neoliberalism, and that the media's promotion of these quasi state-socialist societies as neoliberal is pure ideology. They have also been going around giving talks in which they argue that "living in the number one country" is actually not so advantageous. Panitch was the most persuasive speaker on the other side, that China is not about to take over the world economy because of degree to which Chinese industry is actually US multinational corporations. Gilbert Achcar, perhaps thinking about his next panel, was just tendentious and made a strawman out of Arrighi with vague accusations of Stalino-Maoism. My friend and I agreed that this was an exceptional panel, as both sides presented such compelling arguments and facts. We nodded as one speaker would speak, then, as my friend leaned over and said, "on the other hand...." Except for Achcar accusing Arrighi and Silver of praising the Chinese government, all was good, and I recommend reading the articles by Panitch in the Socialist Register and Arrighi and Silver in New Left Review for further explanation.
The next panel I went to was not on such an elevated level, but was equally packed, in a tiny penthouse lecture hall, "The US Economy Today: Debts, Bubbles, and Uncertainties. They all discussed the fact that the US people for the first time since 1933 have a negative savings rate, and of the meaning of the loss of retirement. They also talked extensively about the real-estate bubble, China and the trade defecit. The most optimistic speaker was also the funniest: Richard D. Wolff, who talked about the need for "going beyond the reforms" of the New Deal in the future round of activism in response to crisis. The other speakers were Doug Henwood, who I've never liked, Eric Glynn, and Bill Tabb. All of them predict the real-estate crash to come, but few think it will be as bad as 1933. I think it may have been Bill Tabb who told the joke that Marxist economists have predicted ten of the last five depressions. For more of Richard Wolff, who was by far the most entertaining of the speakers, you can go look for an Amherst based website called "macroscope" - which he referred to in his talk, but which I was unable to find. You can also go to Monthly Review to read Tabb's article. OK, here's a session without Gilbert Achcar. Maybe he was napping?
Finally, I went to the big show-down of the day between ANSWER and UFPJ: debating strategy in the anti-war movement, with a couple of added comments by Arun Gupta, of the Indypendent, who posed as an objective observer of both groups, and Rahul Mahajan, a prior member of the UFPJ steering committee and frequent denizen of the Brecht forum. The possible unfairness of having Rahul Mahajan, who pretty much backed up Leslie Cagan, as an extra man for the UFPJ team, was more than made up for by the unfairness of the moderator, Jim Lafferty, who was on the side of ANSWER, cut off Leslie Cagan several times, and was generally rude to the audience. I was quite depressed after attending this session, which to me, revealed the complete failure of everyone in the official leadership of the anti-war movement to do much to speak to the great mass of the American people about anything relevant. Brian Becker, of ANSWER was very charismatic and articulate, and said a number of true things about the US empire, but wasn't honest about his group's methods of organizing, and was, in my view, unrealistic about the current "revolutionary" mood of the US working class. Leslie Cagan, of UFPJ, was defensive, denied that she cared that much about the Democratic Party, and was disingenuous about the impact of UFPJ's decisions in the Summer 2004 on the anti-war movement in general. "what is this huge power of UFPJ?" she kept asking. I think it was Mahajan who made the point that what we desperately needed was a meaningful Marxist presence within the anti-war movement. Arun Gupta made some interesting observations, but took the typical anarchist position of standing off to the side like a disinterested and holier-than-thou critic.
I did make up my mind after hearing each side present its views about its strategy that the big problem with UFPJ stems from its belief that the progressive middle-class will provide the base of the anti-war movement. This does stem from the infiltration of the leavings of the CPUSA (according to my comrade, UFPJ's leadership all comes from the Committees of Correspondence) by the Democratic Party. This explains why UFPJ continually takes such a timid stance on the issues and reaches not only a middle-class, but middle-aged group. I generally agree more with ANSWER's view of who the powerful base of a mass anti-war movement should be: working class people and people of color, but it seems fairly obvious that their methods aren't working to engage those people in anti-war activism. Long diatribes about US foreign policy do not a movement make. And no, I don't have the answer either. Near me, a disgruntled and perhaps mentally-ill Iraq veteran, started loudly grumbling about "intellectual masturbation" and complaining that not enough vets were there. This for me, was the icing on the cake.
And there you have it: the problems of the left in a capsule. The problem is not as this anti-intellectual put it, too much discussion, but rather, not enough. There's no room for a serious debate of strategy because of sectarianism, defensiveness, and finally - anti-intellectual responses to the effort to talk about anything beyond "let's all get in the streets!" Although I'm always criticizing the Democratic party lean of the Dailykos, at least people there have embraced debate as necessary. And people at that last anti-war movement panel would have learned from lurking-in on their debates, if only to get a measure of at least one branch of the people against the war in the US.
and that's it for now.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

At Long Last.....and some podcasting recs.

Dear Readers,
For some reason, I've just not been feeling up to daily blog entries lately. I'm hoping I'll be back to daily entries again soon, but for now, I'm probably going to be posting about twice a week, or at most three times. For the last few weeks, I've been really concentrating on my job (and on running errands, doing laundry, and family stuff) and it just has left me not only with no time to blog, but with little time to think about what I'd blog about were I doing it. However, one thing I have been thinking about is a set of excellent podcasts I've been listening to while doing errands and riding around on the subway.

First off, Marc Maron's new Air America show is finally on the air in Los Angeles. If you have insomnia, you can listen to it streaming at "Progressive Talk" KTLK. It's good, and since he's not as pressured to "talk about the issues" as he was during the all-important morning hour, I think the whole thing is more relaxed and fun. I paid those Air America bastards $50 just so I could listen to it on my morning subway commute, and I actually think it's worth it.
Now, after reading the "Marc Maron show blog," I've learned that Air America also took marvelous Mike Malloy off the air in NYC and replaced him with the dreadful "Sattelite Sisters." Now that's an appropriate reward for the man who won the NY A.I.R award for the "best talk show" last year. hmm, I do hate to pay Air America so that I can listen to my favorite cancelled shows. Isn't there something just terribly wrong with that? First, you cancel our favorite shows, then you ask us to pay you for the privileged of listening to them? why, it's extortion!
This morning on the subway, I saw someone reading THIS article about Air America losing its NY affiliate in the NY Post. (to see CEO Goldberg's response, check this more trustworthy source. Whatever happens, I hope Maron stays on the radio because the man is a comic genius, and no matter how much people may like Dr. Maddow on "Air America Mornings," she has become a Democratic Party talking point machine. Let's face it, even NPR has more information that you might need in the day, and while "Wake Up Call" is sometimes a bit dreary and soporific, WBAI's Deepah Fernandez has WAY more to say and plays MUCH better music. After listening to Marc M's show, I've decided that even though my major complaint about him was that he didn't "talk about the issues" enough and spent too much time talking about his insecurities, his insecurities are more interesting than Rachel Maddow's "front page." Let me explain, somehow, he'll link some greater philosophical, psychological /or political observation to his meditations on his own experience, and this will be deeper than the usual "ohmigod here's what it said in the paper today!" that you get from Maddow.

Other podcast or streaming recs. If you google "chomsky podcast," you will eventually land at the show that I didn't know about that has existed for the last six years in Chicago and the world wide web. That's Chuck Mertz and "This is Hell," four solid hours of interviews with your favorite journalists and activists, right and left (Scott Ritter, George Galloway, Dilip Hiro, Cindy Sheehan etc. etc) along with some politico-comic bits such as "Conspiracy Corner," which is essential commentary on today's activist culture.

Finally, if you haven't yet, listen to Ricky Gervais' podcast. It is short and simply hilarious and makes doing household chores much more pleasant.

That's all for now. More tomorrow, if I get the chores done in time.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Case for Impeachment Followed by Another Proposition

This evening, I went to the Harpers' Magazine forum, "The Case for Impeachment," (to be broadcast on CSPAN) featuring Michael Ratner, Lewis Lapham, Elizabeth Holtzman, John Dean, and John Conyers. On the way in, I practically bumped into Mark Crispin Miller, whose friend was talking to him about the importance of "preaching to the choir." "hear, hear," I thought," and then I said, "Oh yes, that's who that is."
Well surely, it's rare enough that an academic gets recognized by appearance, that he'll enjoy it if I say something, so I complimented him on his book - and his blog. He offered to give a talk at my school, and said I should send him an email. His friend said to me, "He really answers his emails!" That's great, and I surely will follow up; I'm curious to hear his take on the impeachment forum, after all, and the kids at my seedy urban school would love to hear what he has to say about the American media, and of course, his analysis of the Ohio election, and Bush et al.
The discussion was pretty lively and left me leaving with a notion I hadn't really had before, that impeachment is a realistic political goal within the current context. Holtzman was probably the strongest in arguing for the build-up of a people's movement for impeachment. She and Conyers both suggested that the 2006 elections should focus on impeachment as a major issue. Because of this somewhat strategic focus, although I had expected I would know just about everything everyone would say before it was said, the discussion went beyond the usual exposure of crimes and went more directly toward arguing for this particular response.
First, the panel explained exactly what Conyers' House Resolution is all about (it calls for the formation of a select committee to investigate impeachment) and Holtzman, Conyers, and Dean all shared their Watergate experiences. Lapham was not too inspiring, except during the Q&A, when he said that he thought we ought to use impeachment "more often" and answered an audience member's question with "yes," if it came to that, revolution would be the appropriate response to executive tyranny. He seemed to mull it over when an audience member suggested abolishing the Presidency.
Lapham does a good job of representing the most hopeful, Tom Paine variety of American liberalism, and gave a great speech on the value of the Constitution, the separation of powers, etc.
Following the presentations, there were questions from the audience members, who predictably didn't ask questions at all, which irritated everyone.
On my way home, I listened to an actual debate, another one of those "intelligence squared" events from England, this one on the topic of "tyrants should be left free to tyrannise their own people." That the proposition was so badly worded probably contributed to its downfall, as the main argument of its proponents, the creepy paleo?-condward LuttwakE and Robert Skidelsky seemed to be that it's not a good idea to overthrow tyrannical governments just because of their tyranny. Of course, Iraq was the subtext. I was somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing because of Luttwak's creepy politics until I heard the first speaker against the motion: Clinton admin. man, and foreign policy advisor to John Kerry, James Rubin, who argued for Wilsonian intervention with the kind of skill that reminded me of how damn dangerous those Clintonites were. It is because these policies are so much more easily argued by people like Rubin that Wallerstein made the argument that Kerry would have been a more dangerous president than Bush. I was thinking along those lines by the end of the impeachment discussion, but I couldn't quite get a question out. If I had, it would have been something like this:
Would you say that impeachment is occurring more frequently in recent years (Nixon, Clinton, Bush?) because executive power itself has grown so much since 1947, and if that is the case, why do you think that impeaching Bush will be enough to save the Republic?
It seems to me that the real question here is about the danger that empire poses to liberty, and that, unfortunately, is a bigger problem than its current representatives, not matter how criminal they are.